Committee studies changes to TUC cliff, suggests lower NCAA regional ticket prices

The NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey committee would like to turn down the volatility in the PairWise Rankings based on the so-called teams under consideration cliff.

Now it just needs to figure out how to do it.

The committee discussed potential changes to national tournament selection criteria at its meeting in Indianapolis last week, and the group is looking at ways to alter the definition of how many teams are involved in the comparisons.

New ideas for regionals and items to be included in specifications for the upcoming Frozen Four bid process also were on the agenda, but potential changes to the at-large selection criteria could have the biggest implications.

As the criteria stands, the number of teams that are compared to each other (a process mimicked by the PairWise Rankings) is fixed as all teams at .500 or better in the Ratings Percentage Index. Formerly, it was the top 25 teams in the RPI.

That creates what has come to be known as the TUC cliff, where a team’s place in the PairWise can fluctuate based on which teams leave and enter the group of teams under consideration.

“We’re looking to see if there’s a way to reduce the variability that seems to happen as people watch that at the end of the year,” said committee chair Tom Nevala, senior associate athletic director at Notre Dame.

“It’s going to happen a lot early, but by the end of the year it seems like it should be a little bit more cut-and-dried. So we’re going to see if there’s some options there.”

Nevala said there are no concrete ideas yet on how to alter the cutoff, but the committee is looking into ways of applying weights to the RPI or developing another metric that involves strength of schedule.

Using a weighted approach also was in discussion in terms of applying more value to road wins.

The NCAA basketball committees value home and road wins differently, Nevala said, but only on one school’s winning percentage. The hockey committee talked about how it could potentially apply the weight to the strength of schedule as well.

A bonus for nonconference road wins was awarded in tournament selection from 2003 to 2007, but the concept has new life now in part because of the imbalance in hosting nonleague games. Last season, the 12 Atlantic Hockey teams hosted an average of only two non-conference games per team in their home rink; in the WCHA, the average was over four and a half games.

As for regionals and the issue of small crowds, Nevala said the committee will encourage “more reasonable ticket prices” from hosts for the next bid cycle.

In 2013, the combined attendance for the four regionals was 37,321, down 48 percent from 2012. The Yale-North Dakota regional final in Grand Rapids, Mich., drew only an announced 1,918 fans.

Two-day regional ticket packages through Ticketmaster cost between $72.70 and $87.30 last season.

“It should help to some extent,” Nevala said of lower-priced tickets. “I guess I would still be in the camp that our game deserves better than half-full buildings at best for regional games, so we’ll see what comes of it.”

Nevala, whose term on the committee is expiring this offseason, is a proponent of playing first-round matchups at campus sites.

That idea, however, isn’t as much of a topic of discussion for the committee as he would like it to be, suggesting that neutral sites remain the committee’s preference.

“The fans who come and support us all year are in and around our campuses,” Nevala said. “Whether it’s east or west, at least I’m not satisfied looking at the numbers that have generally appeared at regionals.

“Whether we’ve considered some of the eastern regionals well-attended or not, I think you could still do better. And hopefully the ticket pricing and the things that they’re going to attempt to do in the next cycle will help. But I’m convinced that we would be better off on campus in general.”

Bids for Frozen Fours from 2015 to 2018 will be accepted starting in July, and the committee has a few items it wants to see from hosts.

One is a ticket pricing level for students from the competing schools, Nevala said. Another is to encourage the host venue to open the home NHL team’s locker room for one of the teams to use.

The committee has a follow-up call scheduled for later this month to continue discussions.